WASHINGTON—Michelin's recently announced Zero Deforestation program will have a major impact on both the procurement of natural rubber and the development of alternative natural rubber sources, according to industry sources.
To Michael Fraley, CEO of the guayule rubber development and commercialization firm PanAridus L.L.C., the Zero Deforestation program underlines the need both for preserving the rainforest and developing sources of NR other than Hevea brasiliensis.
“Eighty-five to 90 percent of all Hevea comes from millions of small, individual growers in three or four countries,” he said. “We cannot sustain a system like that. “The rainforest has been drastically affected, and will continue to be if it continues to be depleted,” he said.
Katrina Cornish, endowed chair and Ohio Endowed Professor for Bioemergent Materials at Ohio State University, sees more and more small farmers in Southeast Asia switching from rubber to oil palm, which is more profitable.
Also, with climate change, the threat to the small area of land on which Hevea can grow becomes ever greater, she said.
“Depending on clonal Hevea for this crucial material is insane,” said Cornish, who leads a major research project in rubber dandelion development at OSU-Wooster Campus. “We have to have some biological diversity before disaster strikes.”
Zero Deforestation forms Section 2.1 of the 2016 edition of the Michelin Group's Sustainable Natural Rubber Policy reference document.
“By all reasonable means, the Group ensures that the natural rubber it uses comes exclusively from plantations that fully comply with the zero deforestation principles,” the document said.
These principles include the complete protection and preservation of primary forests, as well as protection and preservation of High Conservation Value and High Carbon Stock forests, it said.
Section 4.1 of the reference document is titled “Increasing the Material Efficiency of Natural Rubber.” Using biomaterials and other alternative components to natural rubber is among the actions Michelin is exploring in this area, as well as reducing average tire mass; increasing tire durability; developing retreading and regrooving surfaces; and recycling both new and used materials during the production process.
Organizations such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund greeted Michelin's Zero Deforestation announcement warmly. “The announcement by the Michelin Group to commit to a zero deforestation natural rubber procurement policy sends a strong signal to the entire rubber sector: it will soon be more difficult to sell natural rubber that contributes to deforestation,” said Cecile Leuba of Greenpeace France.